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WSJ's "Original Content" Article
Staple This to Your Forehead!
emodo




msg:924017
 5:26 pm on Mar 1, 2006 (gmt 0)

The Wall Street Journal's Lee Gomes [online.wsj.com] offers a professional journalists opinion on "original content".

My beef, actually, is with the search engines and the economics of the modern Web. Google, for example, says its mission is "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." The way that's written, one thinks perhaps of a satellite orbiting high above the earth, capturing all its information but interfering with nothing.

In fact, search engines are more like a TV camera crew let loose in the middle of a crowd of rowdy fans after a game. Seeing the camera, everyone acts boorishly and jostles to get in front. The act of observing something changes it.

Which is what search engines are causing to happen to much of the world's "information." Legitimate information, like articles from the WHO, risks being crowded out by junky, spammy imitations. Nothing very useful about that.

My response: Damn straight! I am tired of searching on a topic and getting page after page of "original" and completely INACCURATE. This is especially dangerous when this information is concerning health.

 

europeforvisitors




msg:924047
 2:59 pm on Mar 3, 2006 (gmt 0)

I think the proliferation of junk filler articles is a good sign, because it means that search engines are winning the battle against pages with no real "content." The purveyors of junk content are simply trying to reach through the window of opportunity and grab some money before that window slams shut.

Content Writer




msg:924048
 3:12 pm on Mar 3, 2006 (gmt 0)

...before that window slams shut.

Please finish the thought. What, exactly, do you believe is going to make the window slam shut?

europeforvisitors




msg:924049
 3:25 pm on Mar 3, 2006 (gmt 0)

What, exactly, do you believe is going to make the window slam shut?

Continued improvements in search engines.

There was also a feeling that like so many other "print" reporters, he sees the "Intarnet" as a pile of rubbish trying to steal decent jobs from college-educated writers.

I hear this frequently from travel writers, who must be the most paranoid group of writers on Earth. If a newspaper sponsors a "my summer vacation" essay contest, they become convinced that newspapers are trying to replace professional writers with amateurs.

longen




msg:924050
 3:33 pm on Mar 3, 2006 (gmt 0)

The act of observing something changes it

The Old Media never reported what actually happened - only their bias on what thay think happened. So whats new?

Content Writer




msg:924051
 4:45 pm on Mar 3, 2006 (gmt 0)

Continued improvements in search engines

No. You already said that. What I'm trying to understand is how you think that the proliferation of junk content described in the article is somehow a "final throes" before "continued improvements in search engines" stamps it out for good.

Search engines have been "improving" for 10 years, but spam is going stronger than ever. You're saying that because there's a lot of spam now, there won't be in the near future. I would like to follow your reasoning, but you're giving me nothing to grab onto.

It's like saying, "We're fighting terrorists in Iraq. Therefore, the insurgency will end." That's more of a prayer than a thought.

So, I think the most valuable thing we could get from this thread is an intelligent discussion of where we go next, if anywhere, from the supposedly flawed web economics portrayed in the whiny WSJ article.

Some have suggested that users will shift toward a portal-based internet to shield from spam while others have said, don't worry about it, spam is an ever present fact of life and that, in the meantime, the search culture is democratizing media moreso than any other system of distribution to date.

Still others have said that search engines will improve miraculously, but they haven't told us how ;)

What do you think? Should current web economics change to reduce spam, or is spam inevitable? If you think web economics should change, then how?

Lorel




msg:924052
 4:54 pm on Mar 3, 2006 (gmt 0)

The day that Google can actually determine that a newspaper's garbled regurgitation of a scientific study is not authoritative, that'll be some darn slick artificial intelligence they got there :-).

That will mean that Google will have to thoroughly and humanly investigate the claims of every page that goes on the internet.

And we thought that DMOZ was slow.

europeforvisitors




msg:924053
 5:00 pm on Mar 3, 2006 (gmt 0)

What I'm trying to understand is how you think that the proliferation of junk content described in the article is somehow a "final throes" before "continued improvements in search engines" stamps it out for good.

Nobody is suggesting that search engines will "stamp out" junk content. They'll just make junk content harder to find in their search results, in the same way that they've made boilerplate affiliate pages harder to find in their search results (at least in the case of Google; I haven't been paying much attention to Yahoo and MSN).

As to what techniques might be used to thwart "content spam," that's a topic for another forum and another thread. Let's not hijack this one. (We can leave that to the members who insist on cluttering up this thread with complaints about doctors, the health-care industry in the U.S., and the WHO).

dauction




msg:924054
 5:16 pm on Mar 3, 2006 (gmt 0)

simply analogous to this thread .. I scanned through all the posts on this thread searching out posts that validated my concept of authority ..

What if Webmasterworld would remove all posts except for the one it feels validates it's view of authority ..?

That might tend to piss off a few posters as well as readers ..

The SE's like Webmasterworld try and keep the most spam on the outs and at the same time let in all other posts/websites and lets the reader determine for themeselves their version of authority on topics.

Jane_Doe




msg:924055
 5:47 pm on Mar 3, 2006 (gmt 0)

As to what techniques might be used to thwart "content spam," that's a topic for another forum and another thread. Let's not hijack this one. (We can leave that to the members who insist on cluttering up this thread with complaints about doctors, the health-care industry in the U.S., and the WHO).

The original post of this thread brought up the subject of health care information on the web and the WHO. The article that was linked to in the first post was about the quality and credibility of health care articles on the web and included a reference to the World Health organization's web site.

Hanu




msg:924056
 5:55 pm on Mar 3, 2006 (gmt 0)

Jane Doe, I'm 100% with you.

It needs an incredible amount of trust when humans submit their bodies to another human's hands for inspection, repair and modification. Most of the time, that trust cannot be based on previous experience because there is now a spcialist for everything, hence most of the time you see a doctor it will be someone you have never met before.

The question is, how do people build that trust in doctors despite the lack of experience? Since the human mind is very good in making decisions that are not backed up any actual evidence (a process called blank!ing), that trust can be established by assigning God-like status to them. Gods are infalliable, aren't they?

What can we learn from that? We need to accept that doctors are mere humans after all. Do you make mistakes? Be honest! Right, there you go. And doctors make mistakes, too. Don't trust them immediately. If something sounds fishy to you, go to someone else. Ask them questions. If you don't get satisfactory answers, ask some more or ask someone else. Research! On the Internet!

Think of doctors as car mechanics, car salesmen, computer technicians or real estate agents. Do these people know more about cars, computers or real estate than you do? Certainly. But are they always right? Are they always honest? You get it.

VegasRook




msg:924057
 7:09 pm on Mar 3, 2006 (gmt 0)

It should be I that decides what is junk and what is important to the population.

I am the 4th estate.

The Internet has empowered people, who can't write well, to write about subjects in which they know little or nothing about for people who don't expect much.

StupidScript




msg:924058
 7:20 pm on Mar 3, 2006 (gmt 0)

Most of us have been trained since birth to accept things as 'truth' from certain classes of other humans ... like police, clergy, doctors, parents, 'world' organizations, etc. This makes it easier for stuff to happen, because if each individual were to question all of that authority in each instance, progress would slow to a dead crawl.

With search engines' relatively indiscriminate indexing, we are being forced to confront our own decision-making process, and many are fearful of that for various reasons.

For content providers who were once 'authoritative' (like WSJ writers), the fear is that they are losing ground to less-informed sources, and losing their hegemony.

For content consumers, it's simply getting confusing.

Personally, I enjoy being able to compare two seemingly-opposing headlines and the stories they lead to.

It forces me to think and make choices.

Content Writer




msg:924059
 9:58 pm on Mar 3, 2006 (gmt 0)

Exactly. Choice and inefficiency. That's what happens in democratic systems.

That's why it's so old worldy to complain about it.

Rollo




msg:924060
 11:38 pm on Mar 3, 2006 (gmt 0)

I think the author is absolutely correct. Search engines do change the manner in which original content is delivered. Unless you're the NYTIMES, you have to spend as much time optimizing and chasing links as writing and researching. For how many years have you learned to start your sentences with strings of keywords or forgo direct object pronouns in your sentences all together? You don't have to be an English major to realize that Web-English is a keyword stuffed, dumbed down version of real English. And that 90% of the content is repackaged content found elsewhere online.

I find this actually very interesting because this is precisely how an engine like MSN could defeat Google. Not by imitating them, but by giving greater relavance to add free content. Google makes 99% of revenues from ads, MSN doesn't.

Google represents much the problem (though the other would be quite willing to take it's place). As the market leader, I'd hazard a guess and say that adsnese is responible for the majority of revenues for a huge portion of these garbage sites, directories, etc.

europeforvisitors




msg:924061
 1:44 am on Mar 4, 2006 (gmt 0)

Unless you're the NYTIMES, you have to spend as much time optimizing and chasing links as writing and researching.

I do very little optimizing (just the obvious, common-sense things like having descriptive page titles). I don't solicit links, either, and I do very well in Google. (I'm not sure about Yahoo and MSN--I haven't checked lately.)

For how many years have you learned to start your sentences with strings of keywords or forgo direct object pronouns in your sentences all together?

None.

I don't think too many owners or editors of genuine "content sites" write for the search engines. The percentage of editorial types who attend SEO conferences and prefer keyword-juggling to journalism is probably quite small.

Rollo




msg:924062
 2:06 am on Mar 4, 2006 (gmt 0)

I don't think too many owners or editors of genuine "content sites" write for the search engines.

I have no doubt you're honestly characterizing your site, but I think that's the exception rather than the rule. You say yourself "genuine" which sort of implies there are less than genuine varietes... it's these that I'm refereing to and it's these that are the issue.

surfin2u




msg:924063
 3:30 pm on Mar 5, 2006 (gmt 0)

Bird flu and colloidal silver content sought by an advertiser were the subject of the article that sparked this thread.

Hype to panic the public (bird flu) and a fake cure (colloidal silver) to reel in their money. The article didn't tie the two together, so I will. Who knows, maybe colloidal silver will be marketed as the cure for bird flu. What a great idea for an article for Whirlywinds.

Using news to advertise products is nothing new. Newspapers like to pretend that the internal wall that they claim to have erected between their ad sales and their reporting makes their news pure and unbiased. I say it helps, but let's not kid ourselves.

If you look in tabloids for health advice expect to find out stuff like how colloidal silver is the cure for bird flu.

There are reliable sources for news on the Internet, but they're not search engines or portals, just a handful of good sites.

andrea99




msg:924064
 4:43 pm on Mar 5, 2006 (gmt 0)

There are reliable sources for news on the Internet, but they're not search engines or portals, just a handful of good sites.

Ah yes, the Internet is just like the real world, only more so. I'm amazed at the gullibility of the general public, even stories about its own gullibility are news. The genuine "reliable sources" and the fake "reliable sources" both have a vested interest in exposing the charlatans. It's the story that keeps on giving.

aleatrix




msg:924065
 8:47 pm on Mar 5, 2006 (gmt 0)

I have a foot in both camps, after having spent most of my life as a professional journalist and free lance writer, I now have a web site. When I post articles and information on that site, I try to make them as authoritative as possible. I have even written such articles for a friend's website.

While in theory I agree with the Wall Street Journal writer's opinion, I am of the generation that can remember when our major newspapers (The NY Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post), as well as some of our TV news reporters, had reputations for accurate and objective reporting. Sadly, this is no longer true. And as a former newspaper reporter I can tell you how pathetically easy it is to bias a story simply by inserting a comma or changing one word in a sentence.

In my experience, information found on the internet is about as authoritative as the information now found in many newspapers. As many of you have pointed out, it depends what site you use as a source. Some are good, some are bad. When I have to read three different international news sites to get a semi-accurate picture of what's happening in the world (and sometimes in my own country), I can no longer say that our news pages are very objective or reliable.

andrea99




msg:924066
 9:23 pm on Mar 5, 2006 (gmt 0)

...reputations for accurate and objective reporting.

Yes, they were believed, but were they really any more accurate than the Yellow Kid press that preceeded it or the cacophany that followed?

Images of JFK as a devoted and healthy family man were widely believed but accurate?

Truman was derided as an incompetent hick. Believed but accurate?

Watergate was the high-water mark for respected journalists but only because their instincts about Nixon were right. I think they became too full of themselves then and that is when they began to lose their way, always seeking a new "___gate."

Ipwalk




msg:924067
 9:14 am on Mar 6, 2006 (gmt 0)

Providing a free-for-all writing space is a Good Thing.

Just look at Wikipedia. Considering it's a communal effort, it's an amazing, free resource. Look at the blogging community.

Yes, lots of bad writing permeates the web, but it's only good that people have to think about what they read and question material. It's not like regular media and press have never mislead the public, or provided information that is just inaccurate or biased.

briggidere




msg:924068
 10:02 am on Mar 6, 2006 (gmt 0)

well,

i went to my docs about 9 mths ago as i was having problems with my chest. after about 6 weeks of going back every 2 weeks, he pulled up google and did a search for my symptoms. that didn't give me a lot of confidence in the doc at all.

i went elsewhere to see another specialist, who was able to help me.

I think it is daft that a doctor would do this, or need to do it, especially in front of a patient..

briggidere

john_k




msg:924069
 5:03 pm on Mar 6, 2006 (gmt 0)

he pulled up google and did a search for my symptoms. that didn't give me a lot of confidence in the doc at all.

You weren't seeing Dr. Riviera (of "The Simpsons" fame), were you? :doh!:

martinibuster




msg:924070
 6:38 pm on Mar 8, 2006 (gmt 0)

I agree with ContentWriter, it is a whiny article, and I will tell you why I think it is whiny.

It was a hilarious stunt the way The WSJ Writer couldn't bring himself to paraphrase a few online articles. Like reporting on what it's like to be a butcher then fainting at the sight of raw meat. That was as theatrical as any stunt Geraldo Rivera ever pulled.

Of course, the subtext to the article is that traditional media feels threatened by Wikipedia, search engines, and mostly by blogs. More people than ever get their news from blogs. Traditional media is under siege, and this is their response.

Fear of Blogs
Traditional media are positioning themselves as true sources of information, omitting that their reporters are guilty of fabricating news reports and sources of news (i.e. making things up), lazily "reporting" what is fed to them by politicians (NYTime's Judith Miller), as well as other shenanigans.

Sure there are some truths in the article, but the subtext and the lie they want people to believe is clear if you scratch a little. This article is a hit piece, a whiny hit piece, designed to boost their position against bloggers and other small websites, to whom they are losing market share.

Whoa




msg:924071
 11:14 pm on Mar 13, 2006 (gmt 0)

I guess this thread is long dead...and I'm late to the party, but I did have one comment.

Google is like a newscamera at a sporting event -- that's a great analogy. But -- HELLO -- what do you think traditional media is.

Every article that is written in the paper (ok, 99% of them) is because somebody jumped in front of a journalist and said "Look at me! Look at me!"

I didn't read Lee's full article, but if he dissed Google for not being objective, it's clearly a case of the pot calling the kettle black. The media does exactly the same thing - journalists cover the people who get in front of them or the people they know already.

Content Writer




msg:924072
 2:25 pm on Mar 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

Good point. If author were to have written an intelligent article, he would have addressed this point. He would have said "yes, traditional media attracts exhibitionists as well, but our advantage is that we have reporters to filter through it all, not just the google machine."

...or something, anything. Anything just to show that he's down for some agile sparring rather than simply jutting out his lower lip and stamping his foot on the ground.

But the author did not write an intelligent article. Like martinibuster said, he wrote a hit piece. He opened his war chest of clever kid trickery, and he attacked. Only shows that old world media is losing the battle bad, and it's scared.

Did Lee actually write his content?

If the article were intelligent, rather than tricky, Lee would have taken a real content writing job. He would have found a content writing job paying first world wages.

Instead, he intentionally dove for the bottom of the barrel in order to be able to paint another clichéd and shady picture of the Internet.

But if you think about it, anyone could have written that article without having worked for Whirlywinds. What's so "breaking news" about it anyway? A five minute chat with any webmaster could have supplied all info needed.

I'm not saying that Lee didn't do what he wrote about doing. That's between him and his Jiminy Cricket. What I am saying is that the article reads a little bit funny. At best, his research was far from rigorous, and as such the piece is far from impressive.

Kirby




msg:924073
 5:07 pm on Mar 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

It was absolutely a hit piece. And it is based on arrogance and the attitude of the media that they are the sole purveyors of truth and authority.

I don't think too many owners or editors of genuine "content sites" write for the search engines. The percentage of editorial types who attend SEO conferences and prefer keyword-juggling to journalism is probably quite small.

Well, not quite. At PubCon in Vegas, one of the panelists was the SEO for the NYTimes. He related how whiny and irritated the writers were that their articles were not always the highest ranking in Google. Again, an attitude based on arrogance.

What he has since put in place at the NYTimes requires everyone who touches copy to learn how that copy is seen by a search engine. He is teaching them to write for an audience that now includes search engines.

Some will get it, some wont. Lee Gomes doesnt yet get it.

Jane_Doe




msg:924074
 6:02 pm on Mar 14, 2006 (gmt 0)

I was just listening to a Green Day's American Idiot song and I thought these lyrics fit in well with this thread -

"Don't wanna be an American idiot.
One nation controlled by the media."

jlr1001




msg:924075
 11:51 pm on Mar 15, 2006 (gmt 0)

You see whining whereas I see something completely different...

True, the author could have gone about writing the piece differently. He didn't have to take the job with Whirlywind, but still that doesn't change the fact that there's a problem when people in the forum can legitimately say that most writing on the web is repackaged from elsewhere.

That's bad on so many levels, not to mention the one that houses a writer's belief that he can support himself by writing for independent websites.

I mean, come on people... Think of all the threads where people ask how much to pay a content writer that we see here. When people with straight faces say that $10 to 30 for a 500 to 800 word article is somehow market rate.... well, that just tells me something's wrong with that market.

I mean, how can any writer comfortably say they've researched, written, revised, and (possibly) seo edited up to 800 words in under an hour? Because you'd have to do it in that timeframe for the numbers to add up.

And I see that this is what the article was talking about--not about how traditional media is being usurped by new media. But how the basic, though ailing, market for online content is creating an environment where a client can say (with a straight face), "Oh I took this from another website, and all you need to do is change it a little."

The fact that some people in this forum have corroborated this position is sickening...

Just my unsolicited $0.02.

-jlr1001

Jane_Doe




msg:924076
 12:33 am on Mar 16, 2006 (gmt 0)

most writing on the web is repackaged from elsewhere

Besides other web sites, I find very slightly modified articles from my sites frequently in print media. I have found my stuff in a nonprofit newsletter, a couple of magazine articles, a supposedly "original" research article in a research journal, a text book I was flipping through at the used book store, and even a flyer I got with my groceries at a grocery store.

The web doesn't have a monopoly on writers cranking out repackaged content by a long shot.

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